The Low Flyer’s Flight Plan

Why the Airport Sucks and What to do About It

Everyone is off buying stuff.

I imagine many of you will be, or are already, travelling for the relentless consumption onslaught known as the holiday season.  If this is the case, then consider this when next passing through the airport. (Written back in October)

So, I have to travel to Ottawa for work to rot through some stifling office meetings.  This means I have to pass through one of the greatest money-sinks I know of, the airport.  I am sitting in the departures area of Winnipeg – James Armstrong Richardson as I type, on the far-east side where there are several benches, placed lounge style, by the Starbucks.  Previously my travels would begin here, in line for a coffee and probably a cookie (chocolate chunk, not warmed), but not this time. Throw in a bottle of water or two (depending on the length of travel day), a few magazines, and something I inevitably forgot at home and we’re easily already pushing $50.  

Looking around it is obvious that most folks have spent a few bucks here this morning before even boarding the plane.

Today was supposed to be different.  I had planned on bringing library books, a water bottle, and a healthy snack but I forgot them all in the rush to leave for the simple reason that I enjoy being in bed as long as possible.  

The one thing I did do is have a high protein breakfast and a couple of coffees before leaving the house, which eliminates the need for Starbucks and lunch.  Water fountains will do on the two short hops I have today, and instead of reading, I browsed the bookstore and jotted down some titles to reserve on-line from my local library for later reading or upcoming travel.  If I were smart I would use my time to make a list for future trips and pack the night before, thus eliminating forgotten items, morning-of anxiety, and affording more precious time in bed.

The folks who run airports have done an excellent job of creating needs that we shouldn’t really have.  A lot of flying, or any travelling, involves long periods of sitting or waiting. Because of this we are easily lured into consuming out of no other need than relief of boredom.  Why not feed, water, and entertain yourself prior to that flight? The fact that water cannot be brought through security might make us want it even more once we are on the other side.  This may be less a matter of our collective safety and more some smart lobbying by the beverage companies, no? Being a captive, shut off from the rest of society, we are at the mercy of what is provided to us, all of it at a significant and arbitrary mark-up.  I have admittedly had glasses of wine that cost more than a moderately priced bottle while waiting for overseas flights at Pearson.

No more.

When you do a bit of analysis and planning ahead it is easy to navigate the commercial pitfalls of the airport.  Look at my trip today, for example. Protein based breakfast. Leave the house at 9:10. Board at 10:15, airborne at 10:45. Two and a bit hour flight to Toronto. Had I remembered to bring it, I would eat my healthy snack here. Fortunately, I am somewhat practiced in intermittent fasting and will instead resist the temptation that is beer and pizza at Boccone and embrace the mild hunger that is a by-product of my body using its ample, but dwindling, stored resources.  Airborne again and on the ground in Ottawa at just after 4pm (3, my time), bag gathered, taxi to town, into the hotel, and mere steps to food that I will enjoy much more than had I partaken in the carb-centric, overpriced airport fare. If I am quick, I can have food in my belly by 5pm (4, my time), a fasting time of maximum 8.5 hours, depending on whether or not you forgot your snack.

Cost: free.  

Benefit: increased tolerance of discomfort, reduced calorie intake, increased enjoyment of the late meal, and $15-$30 or more dollars saved, depending on meal choice.  

Win, win, win, win.  The choice is clear.

Reduced consumption also means reduced demand1.  If you start applying this strategy to 10, 25, 50 percent, or more, of air travellers the impact is huge.    

The airport is still fun without partaking in all that is offered to you on the other side of security.  Don’t forget that you will return to normal civilization (and pricing schemes) on arrival. Embrace your library books, re-usable water bottles, healthy snacks, people watching opportunities, quiet time, and all that is a frugal airport visit.  

Happy holidays and save-on!

1 – Next time you fly, watch how many people throw out a plastic or Styrofoam cup when the cabin crew comes through to clean. If the over 4 billion annual airline passengers all brought their own water bottle and filled it on the other side of security, imagine how much waste would be reduced.

Once in Ottawa I set out to find my dinner (at the grocery store), and a new water bottle.  I stopped at a national chain sporting goods store and found the bottles. There were two sizes, a 1 litre and a 1.5 litre.  The 1.5 L were $8 less than the small ones because the small ones were screened with Marvel comics’ characters.  Happy to add a bigger bottle to my arsenal, I went back to the hotel only to find that it would not fit in the sink for filling.  To do this I had to use the coffee pot to transfer water from the tap to my bottle.

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